The Year in Music – Sonic Explorations by Bryant Gries, Music and Fantasy Contributor to The M@Gazette

The Year in Music,
well, sort of…

OK, first of all some caveats– I am not a real rock critic. Real rock critics get to or have to, depending on your perspective, listen to every album that comes out in order to have an opinion on it. I don’t. I just pick up what looks good, often by bands I already like, and then listen to it. So as I give my list of the top ten albums you ought to keep that in mind.

Morrissey : My Early Burglary Years

MorrisseyMy Early Burglary Years – An excellent collection of Morrissey’s recent work-containing the beautiful “Sunny,” the raging “Boy Racer,” and a delightful cover of “Cosmic Dancer.”

Madonna : Ray of Light
Madonna Ray Of Light – OK, it’s not really electronica; just a simulation of it. However, with sizzling tracks like “Sky Fits Heaven” and the title track, backed with cool tracks like “Swim,” “Frozen” and the gorgeous lullaby of “Little Star,” you won’t worry about the difference.

Beastie Boys : Hello Nasty
Beastie Boys Hello Nasty – My beef with this album is that, like many rap albums, many of the tracks are dedicated to singing (or rapping) the praises of the Beastie Boys. If they weren’t so clever, and didn’t have such fly grooves they wouldn’t have a chance of making it on this list. As it is, such tracks as “Intergalactic,” “Super Disco Breakin'” and “Dr. Lee, PhD” put it on the list.

The Best of James
James: The Best of – In a year of high profile best of’s including the Depeche Mode rip off, the U2 Best of 1980-1990 (worth getting for the B-Sides collection), and the Cure’s aptly named Galore, this band from England stands out. They include two new songs-the delightfully ironic “Destiny Calling” and the painfully sad “Runaground”-that stand up against such classics as “She’s a Star,” “Sometimes” and “Sit Down.”

Counting Cross : Across a Wire Counting Crows Across a Wire-Live in New York – Like James, Counting Crows stands out in a crowd of good live albums, including Portishead’s cool set from New York (PNYC, reviews last month), and Pearl Jam’s Live on Two Legs, in two regards. They provide both an acoustic and a electric set, and the material is so very good. Listening to the acoustic versions of “Angels of the Silences” or “Mr. Jones,” or the electric versions of “Recovering the Satellites” or “A Long December” you realize how wonderful this band is. The 10 minute electric version of “Round Here” in particular, is amazing.

Beck : Mutations

Beck Mutations – A laid back set from a brilliant young man. “Bottle of Blues,” “O Maria,” “Tropicalia,” just get better each time I listen to them. The perfect album on a lazy afternoon as you lay back with a good book.

Tori Amos : From The Choirgirl Hotel

Tori Amos Songs from the Choirgirl Hotel – Call her depressing, call her overdramatic-Tori Amos knows how to sell a song. On Tracks like “Playboy Mommy,” “She’s Your Cocaine” “Jackie’s Strength” or “Spark” she runs both hot and cool, demonstrating a range that few of her colleagues seem to have.

Smashing Pumpkins : Adore
Smashing Pumpkins Adore – One of the two big groups this year to have to try to put out an album without their drummer-Smashing Pumpkins succeeds admirably. While few of the tracks retain the bite of Siamese Dream or Melon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, Adore has more than it’s share of beautiful tracks-such as “Perfect,” “The Tale of Dusty and Pistol Pete,” and “To Sheila.”

Pearl Jam : Yield
Pearl Jam Yield – OK, this is the album that I’ve been waiting for Pearl Jam to make. They finally got all their gears working with biting rock tracks (“Do the Evolution,” “Brain of J”), beautiful ballads, (“Wish List”) and those vaguely experimental songs that Pearl Jam does with occasional success (“Push Me Pull Me” works brilliantly, though). Back that with brilliant tracks such as “Given to Fly” “No Way” and the incredible “In Hiding” and you have an excellent album.

R.E.M. : Up

REM Up – The other group to lack a drummer, but they still manage to put out my favorite album of the year. Tracks like “Lotus,” “Hope,” “Daysleeper,” “Why Not Smile?” and “Sad Professor” are truly brilliant. An excellent album.

–Bryant Gries

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